Four Things Church Members Do ... That Would Get Them Fired at Work

I debated on placing a lot of qualifications on this article. You know, things like, “just because you do this doesn’t make you a bad person” or “this may describe you, but Jesus still loves you” or “I know you have been hurt by someone, and I understand why you do what you do” — but I could spend the entire column qualifying and kill the whole exercise. So, with that in mind, I present to you four glorious, silly things people of sound mind and body do, while claiming church membership, that would get them sacked at work.

1. Don’t Show Up

This is obvious, or should be, but apparently it isn’t to half the members on our “church books.” Employers don’t usually keep people on payroll who don’t show up. Even magicians who make themselves disappear for a living have to first appear in order to amaze everyone with their disappearing. Everyone from cooks to zookeepers need to show up; but despite the admonition not to “forsake the fellowship of believers” (Heb. 10:25), Christians claim to be a part of a particular tradition or local church — but never make an appearance.

Even weirder, when the planets align and they do show up, they become offended when regular attenders express either delight or surprise at their presence. They complain about greeters’ comments indicating they are a visitor. It is irritating when church members are treated like visitors; but it is even more irritating when visitors claim to be members. I used to work at and attend Union College, but I don’t expect a paycheck from them or to be treated as an employee when I visit every few years — that would be weird.

2. Show Up, But Don’t Work

Imagine a dream company you would love to work for. It could be the New York Times  or the hotel Atlantis in Nassau Bahamas (which has a clear tube waterslide that shoots you through a shark tank). Now imagine going to their place of business, standing there and telling everyone you work for that company. Even now, imagine going to work and just standing or sitting, but not actually talking with people or helping — how long would you keep that job? Even people who stand around holding signs on the street corner manage to twirl them and dance a little bit, which is more than a lot of church members do.

3. Show Up, Work, But Don’t Contribute

Okay, so maybe you wouldn’t get fired for this, but it would make the work environment rather unpleasant. Many jobs have potlucks or parties or office pools where people pitch in to help in various ways —but if you’re the guy or gal who just enjoys everyone else’s contribution without contributing then things will turn ugly. In other words, when you expect that others will always take you to lunch instead of seeking to take someone else to lunch, people will start to feel frustrated and your relationships will erode. Even though you may be present on occasion, you really aren’t part of the community. Sometimes as a pastor I get to appreciate the irony of members complaining about candidates such as Bernie Sanders, whom they perceive as offering “free stuff” to everyone, and how terrible that is. Yet they themselves show up and consume religious goods and services and never give anything back.

4. Openly Criticize Leaders and Core Values on Social Media

Not since the doors of Wittenberg have believers had so many opportunities to publicly post their grievances concerning religious institutions and leadership. Now, as a good Protestant, I enjoy a protest — I strongly believe in accountability, grassroots movements and all the wonders of having a gripe session when life becomes frustrating (and, as I often remind people, those who work for the church witness far more to become irritated over versus the laity). However, there are healthy ways and toxic ways to deal with conflict. What strikes me as fascinating, especially among actual employees of the church, is the brazen and personal attacks on doctrine and leadership. While many times my friends and colleagues have good questions and make good points, the contrast of what is allowed at most workplaces fascinates me.

Imagine working for Starbucks and posting on Facebook, “This coffee is so nasty and burnt tasting, go to [local hipster joint] instead!” What about working for Microsoft and calling out Bill Gates on Twitter and then expressing how much better Apple does at designing? Countless stories of people losing their jobs due to social media outbursts can be found with a few keystrokes, and yet it’s an open forum for pastors, teachers and members to church- and leader-bash.

Am I suggesting we don’t engage in critical reflection? No, successful organizations reflect deeply on their mission and make difficult decisions to “stay in business.” However, I don’t know of many organizations that encourage open criticism and sarcasm among employees on their personal media sites.

Conclusion

Church membership is a tricky thing and varies across denomination and local congregations within the same denomination. Does this mean we need to rein people in and reestablish stricter standards for membership and employment? Or maybe it means that the church has more grace than our places of business and maybe more than we have realized.  

August 31, 2016 / Perspective
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